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10 Conversations You Need to Have with Your Children
By Shmuley Boteach
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Shmuley Boteach
All right reserved.
On Becoming a Person
The question becomes, "Who, not what, do you want to be?"
We are all born with a desire to be good--I firmly believe this--but it can be very challenging to be good all the time. This is particularly so for children, who are relatively new to the whole concept of goodness, and who need all the help they can get as they struggle to define it.
In our home, there is one question that is heard on almost a daily basis: Who do you want to be? The choice speaks to character, not career, and the issue is the same for all of us: Do you want to be a good person, or do you want to be a bad person?
Compared to this, every other choice in life is small potatoes. Your child could become president of the United States, he could become the wealthiest, most successful industrialist on the planet, but if he is a bad person you will have failed as a parent. And that's the power of this conversation: You need to teach your child that every choice in life is subordinate to the moral choice.
Let me give you an example of how we do this at our home. One night, not long ago, I was on my way to speak at Shalva, an organization that helps parents withhandicapped children. They were holding a fund-raiser in Long Island, and I was donating my time as a guest speaker because I really believe in the organization. Families are often torn asunder when they have a handicapped child, and Shalva tries to save both the child and the marriage.
I was being taken out to Long Island by a driver, a fine man I'd met two or three times before, and I was sitting in back, reviewing my speech, when my cell phone rang. It was my second daughter, Chana, asking if I had time for her. I always try to make time for my kids, even when I don't have time, so I told her I had a minute or two. She plunged right in: "I spoke to Mommy, and Mommy said it's okay already. I want to dye my hair a bit of a darker shade of brown. It's not permanent, but I want to try it out." And I said, "Well, Chana, let's talk about this when I get home. I'm on my way to a charity event at the moment, and I'm trying to polish my speech." And Chana said, quite forcefully, "No, Tatty. Please give me an answer. Mommy said it was okay. It's not permanent."
I was distracted, and I repeated that I didn't want to get into it, telling Chana we would talk later. Not an hour later, while I was sitting at the fund-raiser, in the middle of dinner, my cell phone rang. It was Chana again, pressing me for an answer, and I was so irritated that I took the easy way out and relented. "Fine," I said. "If you're going to push me, and if it really isn't permanent and no big deal, go ahead and do it!"
A couple of hours later, when I was on the way home, it occurred to me that the driver must be hungry. He had waited outside in the car while I'd been inside the estate of a Long Island billionaire, enjoying a seven-course meal. When we finally pulled up to my home, I asked the driver if he wanted to come in for a bite to eat. At first he refused, politely, but he finally relented, admitting that he really was quite hungry, and I brought him into the house.
I found Chana at the computer, working on her homework, studying for a big test, and I asked her to go into the kitchen and prepare a little something for the driver. She heated up dinner, made him a nice salad, and waited on him. And after the driver had gone home, no longer hungry, I turned to her and told her that her hair looked nice. "You really like it?" she asked.
"Yes," I said. "It's a beautiful shade of brown, although I still prefer your natural color. But there's something more important I want to talk to you about." I indicated the chair in front of me, and we sat facing each other. "Let me tell you a story about two girls. The first girl is prepared to call her father and bug him over something superficial, shallow, and self-serving, even after she's been told that he is busy preparing for an important charity event. The other girl is at home, in front of her computer, studying for an important test, but when her father asks her to prepare dinner for a hungry stranger, she does it willingly and without complaint. This second girl treats the guest as if he were a visiting dignitary, and when her father sees this he is filled with pride. It is a story of two different girls, Chana. One girl, really, but with two totally different facets. Who do you think I'm talking about?"
And she smiled a little and said, "Me?"
"That's right," I said. "You have to choose, Chana. One cancels the other out. The two girls inside you will forever battle for predominance, and you have to choose: Which one of those girls do you want to be?"
The fact is, I know she wants to be the good girl, and that's not just a matter of opinion. All children want to be good. From time immemorial, civilization has focused much of its energy on preserving the innocence of the child--the innocence that is his birthright. Then Sigmund Freud came along, and everything he said about human development undermined the very notion of childhood innocence. Children were narcissistic and uncivilized, he suggested. They were sexual from birth. They had to be controlled. As these notions became . . .
Excerpted from 10 Conversations You Need to Have with Your Children by Shmuley Boteach Copyright © 2006 by Shmuley Boteach. Excerpted by permission.
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